In the mid 1970’s I was a latch-key kid. I remember my father and I had a house key cut at the local hardware store where we also bought a foot and a half of tiny chain cut from a big roll. The shiny key slid easily onto the chain with a fastener to close it. I was officially in charge of getting myself home from school and locked securely in the house. After a quick phone call to my mom to tell her I’d arrived, my afternoon unfolded safely inside, often in front of the television—the only screen in the house in those days.
Officer Friendly visited classrooms annually to remind us about the dangers of strangers in cars approaching as we played outside or rode our bikes. We knew not to give out our names, addresses or reveal we were home alone if a stranger called.
Warnings of strangers were real. Adam Walsh disappeared from a Sears store and was found decapitated. Kids went missing from playgrounds and communities mourned.
Today there is so much more— more of everything—to worry about. Those strangers we were warned about—strangers is cars who had lost their dog or needed directions? Those types of predators are still lurking. And we’ve invited them in. Laptops, desktops, tablets and smartphones are an unlocked door to our homes and can give these predators access to our children.
We monitor our childrens’ grades online, we give them cellphones to carry like protective armor and then we put them in harms way with the same technology that is used for homework and entertainment.
No wonder we’re all confused.
To protect them, we must inform them.
My kids are way ahead of me with this ‘technology stuff, some parents say.
As parents, we can’t afford for them to be “ahead” of us.
How can we protect them if we don’t do our homework? What technology rules are in place in our homes? How often do we review their texting habits? What about the cameras on every device? Have we talked to them about the perceived anonymity of the Internet? Because there is no such thing. Every click can be tracked, every picture repurposed, every IP address contains our personal information. We must have these conversations and we must have them often.
The talks will be uncomfortable…
No over- the-bathroom-stall pics to embarrass your buddies.
No topless picture for your boyfriend. Ever.
No chatting online with people you don’t know.
Be careful what you say and post to friends and classmates, monsters aren’t always strangers and jokes aren’t always funny.
The conversations need to begin now. In middle school. Scary isn’t it?
Not as scary as your child meeting up with an online friend at Sunset Place or Dave and Buster’s and coming face to face with a monster.
What hasn’t changed since our childhoods?
These ‘tween years are rough. Self-confidence is low as kids try to fit in. Kids are sometimes home alone or minimally supervised when parents are working. And, let’s be honest, being a kid can be lonely.
The monsters that lurk online know this and are looking twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. They make it their business to know what music, clothes, games, and shows are popular with kids today and they stalk their prey. They also know the technology, so we parents need to know it too.
When it comes time for our children to learn to drive, we won’t hand them the keys to a car without lessons, safety measures and practice. Why would we give them technology, also a dangerous device, without its own set of lessons and safety procedures? Before we are able to do that, we parents need to learn the rules of the road and where the dangerous curves are before we can help our children be safe while online.
Here are a few places you can go to get more information:
The Federal Bureau of Investigation
The National Crime Prevention Council
Internet Safety for Kids and Families Blog)